The Research Gap in Social Entrepreneurship

In the fall of 2014, I put together my first academic syllabus for a course on social entrepreneurship at the University of Texas Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. It consisted primarily of articles from Stanford Social Innovation Review, chapters from Impact Investing: Transforming How We Make Money by Jed Emerson and Antony Bugg-Levine, and a few articles pulled from mainstream entrepreneurship and innovation research. It was a practitioner’s syllabus, but not a very academic one.

A few months later, I had a conversation about the class with Jonathan Lewis, a colleague from UnLtd USA. He asked, “How do you know if you’re having your students read the right things?” Though my experience in impact investing led me to believe that I was covering what students needed to know, the syllabus didn’t have an academic foundation. So Jonathan and I decided to dig for an identifiable core of academic research in social entrepreneurship. The more we considered the question, the more important it felt. An identifiable body of work could guide practitioners of social entrepreneurship, offer a common language for researchers, provide an educational path to those new to the field, and demonstrate that social entrepreneurship is a legitimate and distinct discipline.

Jonathan went straight to the data: Using Thomson Reuter’s Web of Science, an academic research platform, he identified approximately 500 academic articles related to social entrepreneurship and downloaded the metadata associated with each one, including other articles they cited. Then, using the data analysis tools SCI2 and Gephi, he created something called a document co-citation network. Document co-citation looks similar to the connections in a social network, but instead of showing connections between friends, it shows connections between articles cited within a single document. We identified 1,900 journal articles, conference proceedings, and books related to social entrepreneurship. Then we then looked for the ones that were most central to that network—meaning they were most often co-cited, and therefore most influential. This gave us the 25 most influential academic articles.

Read the rest of the post on the Stanford Social Innovation Review website. 

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